Less than one half of one percent of law enforcement officers has the chance to attend the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Academy.
The Decorah Police Department has had three officers complete the program. Former Police Chief Tom Courtney graduated in 1998, current Police Chief Bill Nixon did it in 2008 and Assistant Police Chief Dave Smutzler graduated last month.
"I have a better understanding of what it takes to be a good leader and a better understanding of people than before I took the training," Smutzler said.
Located at the Quantico, Va. U.S Marine Base, the National Academy Program is 11 weeks of advanced investigative, management and fitness training for selected officers with proven records as professionals within their agencies, according to an FBI release.
Smutzler was in the 251st session of the Academy, and his class of 265 law enforcement officers included men and women from 49 states, the District of Columbia, 29 countries, four military organizations and six federal civilian organizations.
"It's a huge professional and personal accomplishment for him and a great thing for the department and the city. He developed some really cutting-edge leadership skills, relationships with people in similar positions in departments of varying composition," Nixon said.
Officers apply for the National Academy, and those selected have their training entirely funded by the FBI.
"The fact a department our size has had three people go through this program speaks well of the department ... it's completely unique. It's a very competitive process to get in," Nixon said.
The National Academy was founded in 1935 as a way to create a connection between federal and local law enforcement, the chief explained.
"So when you do have things come up that you are mutually involved in, there is a relationship that facilitates some kind of teamwork," Nixon said.
"It was a great networking tool. Not only do you meet and work with people from all over the country, but internationally. There were 30 international students in my group. It was interesting to hear their perspectives," Smutzler said.
Nixon said Smutzler would be sharing what he learned with the rest of the police department.
"That's where the real value is - how you use it once you're done with it," Nixon said.
When he learned he'd been selected for the Academy, Smutzler said he'd increased his cardiovascular workouts because he'd been warned the physical fitness training was intense.
At the Academy, that culminated with running the "yellow brick road" - a six-mile obstacle course through the woods that included climbing walls, going through windows and repelling up and down cliffs, followed by a 5K run.
Smutzler said he feels a sense of accomplishment after completing the program.
"I've known about it for quite a while. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do it," he said. "It was some of the best training I've ever been able to attend."
In addition to "fantastic instructors," he said the Academy offered "enrichment periods" in between classes during the day and speakers in the evening. The speakers included General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and Michael Durant, the American pilot and author who was held prisoner for 11 days in 1993 after a raid in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Smutzler, who has been a member of the department for 21 years, said attending the National Academy has been on his "bucket list."
He said it wouldn't have been possible without the support of his wife and his daughters and the men and women of the police department.
Other officers worked his shifts and helped cover his administrative responsibilities.
"It's tough in a department this size. I know a lot of sacrifices were made by people here," he said.